Living Stronger Together

The racial equity workshop I signed up for couldn’t have come at a better time — two Nancy Oatesdays after the American people elected a president who campaigned to deport a large chunk of the workforce because of their ethnicity and to close our borders to Muslims and non-white refugees.

For the most part, the workshop participants were self-selected and predominated by people who recognized the problem of both blatant and insidious discrimination. The two-day workshop was a safe haven from the smirking, gloating president-elect and his supporters, and the open bigotry, misogyny and hatred his election uncorked.

The workshop differed from other racial equity training I’d taken previously in that this one focused on race as a social construct: Who defines “white” and why, and how?

The workshop trainers took a historical approach and emphasized the role wealth played in oppression and suppression. The law delineating the fraction of non-white blood someone could have and still be defined as white originated from the desire to protect the status of the progeny of English settler John Rolfe and Pocahontas, the daughter of Chief Powhatan.

The trainers explained how, in the 1930s, U.S. residents of India heritage were declared non-white and lost protections and property. As the trainers went through the policies instituted to drive a wedge between races — Jim Crow laws, separate-but-equal practices, black voter suppression methods — it became uncomfortably clear how much discrimination is still alive and functioning in the U.S. today.

To help us understand the impact of institutional racism, the trainers used the analogy of joining a Monopoly game two hours into it. Although all players get the same amount of money to start and the same payday each time they pass go, the late-comers are at a disadvantage. They have not had time to accumulate wealth. Broadway and Park Place have been acquired; even Baltic Avenue has a hotel and charges all who land on it $450 a pop.

As the workshop drew to a close, the trainers asked participants to reflect on what they had learned and how that knowledge had changed them. Fear and anxiety dominated as participants anticipated what life would be like in the climate of hatred that had become socially acceptable beginning Nov. 9.

The trainers offered no to-do list for redemption. Instead, they left us to stew in the knowledge of how divisive tactics had been used in America for generations to weaken our society and keep power and wealth in the hands of a select few. Maybe that knowledge will change us and shape what we do. “Stronger together” can become a way of life.
— Nancy Oates

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  1. The monopoly game was one of my favorite parts of the training. It highlights the problems, including the challenges facing wealth holders

    The other part that really struck me was the notion of gatekeepers – and how many well intentioned govt programs can destroy the fabric of a community. Gatekeepers are in control and trying to help – but are they? Its a progressive variation of white privilege.

    The campaign for racial equity in CHCCS adds another important piece – that’s how structural racism is built into our school curriculum.

    Let it stew. Celebrate your white privilege – and count on your friends of color to keep you stirring

  2. bart

     /  November 28, 2016

    I think the Monopoly thing is silly. Unless one is immortal, you are always coming after someone else who has already “grabbed all the good stuff and left nothing for anyone else.”

    I once was in a training where the speaker decried how only minority groups are described as “tribal” and how racist that image is because no white people are described that way. Except for all the Angle, Saxon, Pict, etc tribes and Norse tribes etc. of people throughout history, I suppose. Of course, I knew better than to ask that question, even in 1996.

    I also disagree with the “climate of hate” since November 8. I grew up in a one-party town – all Republican. I’m now living in a one-party town – all Democrat. I have seen the same treatment of those who do not fit local orthodoxy in both places: derision, stereotyping, belittling of their concerns, and smugness. The only difference I’ve seen is the justification for such behavior.

    In my hometown, people thought belief in God allowed many of them to feel justifiably superior to others with different ideas. Those others and their ideas could be written off if they did not believe in God or believed in a different God. Belief in God excuses much bad behavior.

    Here, a belief in a certain set of political beliefs do the same duty. Veer away from those and get written off, called names and derided as a hater or just plain stupid. Claiming adherence to a liberal pantheon of right beliefs allows people to justifiably hate those who have differences and to recast their concerns as immaterial, petty or bogus.

    The outcome is the same though, a larger group bullying a smaller group with different ideas while hiding behind a shield of superiority, whether from God or from a “superior mindset.”

    November 8 is not a disaster and not evidence that half the country is made up of haters. Liberal values will survive and thrive, particularly if we can stop hating on those who disagree. Everyone is going through something. No one is getting a free ride.

    And I really wish government programs could adhere to the medical community sense of “first, do no harm.”

    Of course, posting this message to Facebook is like throwing gas on a fire. I had a friend tell me that she did not tolerate name-calling or treating people badly for their beliefs.

    Then she finished by saying that all the stupid, racist, homophobic people (her labels) were not worthy of protection.

  3. Nancy

     /  November 28, 2016

    Bart, I agree that in our liberal bubble we have become “Tea Party Democrats,” so entrenched in our superiority that we show no tolerance for those who look through a different lens.

    This presidential campaign went beyond philosophical differences, though. The fear-mongering, the racist comments and misogyny all were used as tools to not just divide us but pit us one against another. And seeing that in the man who is to be our face to the rest of the world seems to have convinced some people that those racist, misogynist, fear-mongering sentiments are OK to voice. They’re not.